Popular-music critic Jonathan Zwickel picks his top 10 albums for 2010, which range from Flying Lotus' "Cosmogramma" (No. 1) to Four Tet's "There Is Love In You" (No. 10).
A superbly written song pushes music forward as much as the most cutting-edge sound experiment. This year’s 10 best albums balanced craftsmanship with innovation. Each answers a question: Either “what’s good for music?” or “what’s good for me?” And you too, maybe. Here they are, in descending order.
Four Tet, “There Is Love in You” (Domino): Warm and enveloping, Four Tet’s organic electronica is romantic dance music for late nights and/or an introspective soundtrack to early mornings. For music as “auteured” as this (Four Tet is really just one Kieren Hebden, bedroom musician), versatility is a virtue.
Vampire Weekend, “Contra” (XL): The NYC quartet remains both accessible and (metaphorically) offbeat. Their sophomore album furthers their oblique take on pop music and offers several unforgettable cuts.
Big Boi, “Sir Lucious Left Foot: Son of Chico Dusty” (Purple Ribbon/Def Jam): Authority counts for a lot in hip-hop, especially when paired with a sharp sense of humor and a keen eye for detail. Big Boi’s got all three, not to mention well-placed cameos by hard-hitting newcomers.
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The Head and the Heart, “The Head and the Heart” (self-released): The most promising debut from Seattle since Fleet Foxes’ in 2007. Pop chops bound by folksy harmonies and foot-stomping passion make for cross-generational, cross-genre appeal. Unsubstantiated rumor of the moment: They’re signing to Sub Pop.
The Arcade Fire, “The Suburbs” (Merge): The biggest indie band on the planet has something to say (about consumerism, spirituality, war and alienation; nothing trivial in Arcade Fire’s world), and they say it loudest on their third record. Sinks in slowly, sticks around forever.
Yeasayer, “Odd Blood” (Secretly Canadian): Future-retro electro-pop panoramics scuzzed up by bubbling, unyielding weirdness, all in service to deft, deliberate song writing. Powerful, inspired, fun as hell.
Truckasauras, “Quarters,” (Journal of Popular Noise/Fourthcity): Kirkland’s favorite sons come bigger and deffer with their sophomore record, a dizzying, often hilarious spin on hip-hop, rock, techno and pop. Best song title of 2010: “Dom P on Your Backneck.”
Caribou “Swim,” (Merge): Like Four Tet, Caribou’s take on electronic dance music is all soft curves and warm-blooded melodies. Caribou’s jams are more succinct and song-oriented but still utterly unpredictable, like the one with harp and Tibetan singing bowls providing the beat.
Kanye West, “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” (Roc-a-Fella/Def Jam): Ignore the fact that Kanye is the most intriguing figure in popular culture; he’s at the pinnacle of his creative life. “Fantasy” isn’t perfect but it’s damn close: wildly ambitious, deeply personal, startlingly universal. And it bangs.
Flying Lotus, “Cosmogramma” (Warp): Nobody makes music like Flying Lotus. The musician born Steven Ellison conducts cosmic-beat symphonies so idealized, so glamorous, so stimulating they’re like auditory porn. His is a post-genre genre all its own, informed by the spiritual jazz of his late aunt Alice Coltrane, the left-field hip-hop of Timbaland, the laboratory electronica of Aphex Twin and Ellison’s own visionary artistry. “Cosmogramma” is a masterpiece, the height of creativity in 2010.
Jonathan Zwickel: firstname.lastname@example.org